FOP Yunnan Green

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This is a tea I recently tried and, I must say, it was love at first taste. It is a green tea from the Province of Yunnan in the far southwest of China. Yunnan borders Burma, Laos and Vietnam and it is renown for producing tea especially fine pu-erhs and black teas for hundreds of years. It also produces rice, flowers, tobacco and mushrooms among other agricultural products.

The letters FOP stand for Flowery Orange Pekoe that means that this tea is formed of long leaves and tips which you will see in silver color.

The dry leaves are dark green, quite uniform and tightly curled with plenty of tips. The aroma is also remarkable, already sweet, fresh and flowery. It reminds me of the smell of steamed plantain leaves that are used in Latin America to wrap some types of food.

For this tea I used a water temperature of 75 C and let it steep for 2 minutes. The colour of the liquor resulted in a nice light amber. The aroma is very floral and vegetal with the characteristic toasted notes of the Chinese green teas. It also smells to me like pipe, very subtle but deep, like the long-lasting trace my neighbor leaves every time he goes out. 

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It has a nice rounded body, a sweet and honey-like lasting aftertaste and a moderate astringency. Sometimes I also brew it at 70 C for two minutes just to get all the sweetness and the honeydew melon taste.The second infusion is as good as the first one so I will definitely try a third one the next time.

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The weather is getting colder every day and I am still craving this tea every morning. It reminds me of gunpowder a little bit -which I also love- but much more flowery and fragrant. I highly recommend this tea, it is versatile, perfect for any time of the day and year. If you try it please let me know your thoughts.

Thank you for reading!

Teascopia meets Blueyellow

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I haven’t met Caroline in person yet but I do know her herbs. We got in touch through a friend we have in common that recently came to Barcelona and told me about Caroline’s project of aromatic herbs blueyellow. She had also told her about my blog and my tea project, so she formally introduced us.

Without much brainstorming or clear ideas about our new “project”, Caroline sent me the list of the seasonal herbs she had available so we could chose the ones we thought could match well with tea. Few weeks later she came to Barcelona and brought me the beautiful bouquet. Since I was away that week my husband kindly met with her and received the herbs on my behalf. When I came back home the smell was striking, all over the house… So nice and fragrant!

So tea and fresh aromatic herbs? What a perfect combination! It’s time to start tasting and blending these herbs with tea. In the bouquet there were: Wild Bergamot (Monarda), Lemon Bee Balm (Melissa), Mugwort (Artemisa), Anise Hyssop and Spicy Oregano. Most of them I had tried before in their dried version except for the bergamot leaves from which I just knew the essential oil extracted from the fruit.

I started by infusing each one of them alone, just to see how they tasted and behaved in hot water. Then I would write some ideas and ingredients I wanted to add and try. I did many tests, blending the fresh herbs with other dried herbs and teas until I was pleased with each one of them.

I am finally happy to present these 5 blends:

Blend # 1: Anisse Hyssop, Rose buds and Yin Zhen Silver Needles

Sweet, spicy, flowery, refreshing and soothing. A nice pale yellow liquor with a fresh and delicate aroma. Perfect as a mid-morning tea.

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Blend # 2: Wild bergamot leaves, Chamomile buds, High Mountain Oolong and Calendula petals

The fruitiness of the oolong combined with the light but peppery taste of the bergamot leaves and the sweet taste of the chamomile buds makes this blend a calming tea. Nice amber and deep yellow liquor.

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Blend # 3: Lemon Bee Balm and Flower tea

Citrusy and almost mentholated flavour. The flavor of the Lemon Bee is strong as well as its aftertaste. The flower tea just adds a soft tea base for this blend. I would personally add some honey to balance the flavour of the lemon bee just a bit!

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Blend # 4: Wild Bergamot leaves, Rose petals and Hibiscus

Just an infusion with no tea in it. The sweetness of the rose petals with the tangy flavour of the hibiscus and the citrusy flavour of the bergamot make a lovely blend to enjoy hot or cold. Lovely color and festive taste.

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Blend # 5 Mugwort, Elderflower and Jasmine green tea

Refreshing, delicate and flowery. Ideal for any time of the day.

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Overall my favourite herb was the anisse hyssop, its flavour is so sweet and fragrant that really caught me. The flower and the leaves are also exquisite and beautiful.

The bergamot was very nice, yet very different to the essential oil from the fruit. I loved the fact that the bergamot leaf infusion has been made for a long time by American natives for stomachaches, fever, colics and insomnia. So its medicinal properties plus its delicate flavour make it a good choice to blend with almost any kind of tea.

The lemon bee balm was also a great surprise as it literally has nothing to do with its dried version. The smell and taste is powerful and strong as well as its aftertaste. I found it challenging to blend with, because it would overlap the taste of everything else. So, I decided not to fight too much against it and just let it be, putting it together with a flower tea. Loved it!

The little spicy oregano stem I didn’t use. I kept it dry to put it on a nice homemade pizza or sauce. Cheeky me!

The mugwort was easy and nice to blend with. It blended perfectly with the jasmine and the elderflower.

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I really loved this collaboration, blending tea with fresh herbs was simply wonderful and I will definitely continue mixing and matching new herbs and teas! To know more about blueyellow please visit http://blueyellow.co where you will find all the varieties of aromatics available and the story behind this fantastic project. I am also certain that Caroline would be delighted to guide you through her herbs and answer any question you may have!

It has been a pleasure to work with someone like Caroline that puts so much love into what she does and to have the opportunity to share our passions (tea and herbs) in such a beautiful project!

Thank you!

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Tea manners, good manners?

IMG_7191 retocadaOne of the first rules we learn when we are children regarding good table manners are: do not play with the food and do not make any sounds when you eat. But when it comes to tea tasting these rules are basically the opposite. In order to evaluate a tea you have to “play” with it, meaning you have to see it, smell it and taste it. The way tea is tasted professionally is by slurping. The slurp allows the tea to mix with the oxygen to release its maximum flavour. After the slurping also comes the spitting. Master Tea Tasters can taste hundreds of teas in a row and they usually don’t swallow all the teas they taste, they spit them.

Whether you are a professional tea taster or a tea lover, I believe it is a great exercise to evaluate your tea. You are looking for its characteristics, quality, aromas, colour, bright, taste and aftertaste, among other things. It is called sensory evaluation and Master Tea Tasters are trained to systematically and meticulously identify every characteristic of one particular tea each time, hundreds of cups of tea at a time.

But don’t worry if you are not an expert. You can start at home with the teas you have, trying to identify aromas, textures and flavours, also reading about them. You can even ask somebody else to taste them with you and compare your notes.

Finally, forget about “good manners”, grab your spoon and start practicing your slurping skills, -you will notice how much practice it actually takes to do it without choking or dribbling- and open your senses to the variety of flavours and possibilities that a specific tea can provide you. If you love tea and want to start expanding your knowledge and refining your senses, this is a great exercise to start with!

The romantic side of tea or the microsociology of tea

Harney and Sons Teascopia

Harney and Sons NYC

I spend time reading and looking for information about tea: trends, latest discoveries, news, tasting and visiting tea places because it is essential for my occupation and most of all, because it interests me. But sometimes or may I say most of the times, I end up – besides accumulating an enormous amount of information – wandering away, thinking about things that may not be relevant within the context of the tea industry, thinking about tea in everyday life or as I would like to call it “the romantic side of tea.” The other day a friend told me: “I am not having a good relationship with tea lately. We aren’t good friends anymore…” And why is that? I said. “I don’t know, I don’t know, it just happened.” Few days later he came home and I made tea. I said: “Try this, I think it could restore your relationship with tea.” He had a sip and immediately said: “What is it? With this of course you regain your faith in tea!” I loved it and I thought to myself, people do establish relationships with tea and that is fantastic. Last week, I was making copies of my Tea Sommelier CV in a copy place. Few days later I went back and the guy from the store asked me: “I am drinking rooibos these days because my homeopath banned me from caffeine. Is rooibos good for me?” So we started a conversation and I even promised to give him some lemongrass and rose infusion to taste. And I also thought, how nice it is to have a conversation about tea in Barcelona with the guy from the copy store who also happens to be a tap dancer.

Petersham Nurseries Teascopia

Petersham Nurseries London

It is in these ordinary and random stories, conversations and the daily act of drinking tea where I find motivation and inspiration for myself and for my blog. It also crossed my mind that if you put all these stories and ideas together they might turn into a some sort of “microsociology of tea.” It is in the nature of everyday human social interactions where microsociology stands and where my approach to tea also belongs to: the interpretative analysis and subjective observation. So I am not only interested in the technical aspects of tea but also in the way people relate to it: the private and social rituals of making tea, tea as a cultural institution, a religious practice, a fancy trend, a popular drink, all at the same time. In how “tea culture” varies across countries and people.

I also love to hear people’s stories on how they started drinking tea and meaningful anecdotes they remember. I love when people offer me tea. I love to know about their preferences and choices and to think about the endless possibilities of taste. I love the reactions of people when they experience different flavours and smell different aromas and discover something new. In a nutshell, I am drawn by “our ability to see greatness in small things” as Muriel Barbery wisely said and how these little things become meaningful to us, whether that is in the world of tea or in life.

Tea and cake # 4

While in Antwerp I was doing some grocery shopping at the supermarket when I spotted this lovely box of gluten free Speculoos biscuits on the shelf. I would always see my husband craving for the regular ones so it was finally my opportunity to try them! If you don’t know what Speculoos is, these are shortbread biscuits with cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, brown sugar, cardamom, among other spices, similar to a Christmas shortbread.

The box had this message on the side: “The little pleasures in life are a touch of oooom mixed with a pinch of mmmmm and a dash of yuhm, and many other special ingredients only you know about”. Well, these biscuits are mmmm, yuhmmm, oommm indeed and I think that would be the best description for it; my husband was right. Needless to say this brand is called Little Pleasures.

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So in this edition of Tea and Cake (that I should have called Tea and Biscuits instead), I married a black, malty, full bodied Assam with the Speculoos biscuits and the combination was absolutely delicious! It was like tasting a Masala Chai and if you think about it, it actually is. The spices in both the tea and the biscuits are mostly the same. But don’t worry, if you don’t have Speculoos, find a good Assam or any robust black tea and accompany it with some ginger or spiced cookies, and you will see the result!

This time I also added soy milk to my Assam (a lighter version of a builders tea) just to add creaminess to it and have a bit of contrast with the crunchiness of the biscuits.

I had a sip of my tea, then I had a cookie, then another sip and so on until the cup and the box were both empty.

Tea at home away from home

image copyOne of the things I enjoy the most about traveling is the experience of discovering new things. Sometimes we go back to places that we already know and some others, we try new ones. Yet each experience is always different. This was my second visit to Belgium and this time we spent one week in Ghent and another one in Antwerp. In Ghent we stayed at a friend’s house while they were in Norway. They have a beautiful flat with a lovely garden and a sweet cat called Lucy who was the perfect company while finding inspiration and writing for my blog. In Antwerp we stayed at the same flat we rented last year. It had slightly changed since our last time there, it had new pictures hanging on the walls, different crockery and other decoration items but it was all very nice as usual.

One morning I was making tea and this thought came to my mind: “tea at home away from home” and it was a nice and curious feeling. Any place where you spend time at and you feel at ease, where you can unwind, relax and wake up every morning and make tea (or coffee), rapidly becomes your “home”. We start building routines, we choose our favourite spots of the house, we take care of it, we spend time there and we adapt to it without even noticing. I didn’t need much to feel just right and I am more and more convinced that it is because we are these self-contained moving houses that make a “home” wherever we go.

So I had many cups of tea those days, enjoying that feeling of being at home away from home, reinventing myself, daydreaming, experiencing my usual and different cup of tea in every way. They came in a different language, with the smell of greenery, lots of rain, the sound of the tram, krieks, good friends and unforgettable times.

IMG_1203.JPGSomething as easy as a cup of tea every morning to feel at home? I wish life was that simple but I think this is more about making room in our lives to enjoy simple pleasures no matter where we are, to feel comfortable with ourselves and our surroundings, wether it is at home or away from home.

I want to dedicate this post to our amazing and loving friends: Johan and Carmen (and family), Medhi and Ruth (and family), Femke and Joram (and Lucy) for having us at their homey flat, Robin and Marlies, Mark and Guy (and those we couldn’t see this time) for making this trip so special! Belgium feels like home everytime we go because of you! Big hugs!